So now it’s crunch time for the proposed privatization of electricity in New South Wales. This weekend the ALP conference will consider the matter, and until now it has been widely expected that the delegates would overwhelmingly oppose the plan. The unions and many within the Labor Party have long held concerns about the effects of the sell off, not only for workers and consumers, but also for the political backlash that might come back to hurt the government at the next election.
Central to the opposition arguments have been three issues: Jobs, prices, and customer service. While concerns on these issues may well be valid, they may also be nothing more than the arguments employed to support an ideological position flatly opposed to any privatization of public utilities. If that is the case, then the Premier’s latest proposal will do nothing to change the minds of the critics.
In an effort to address the concerns of the critics, the Premier has now proposed to create a joint venture power company which will remain half owned by the State, and which will be one of a number of competitors in the marketplace. In addition, the promise to regulate prices until 2013 has been extended to permanent price monitoring by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.
These proposals add to the assurances that have already been given over employment issues, and together address most of the criticisms. But there will be some who are simply opposed to privatization of any kind. It’s going to be an interesting weekend at the ALP conference.